The critical role of community colleges in a pandemic world

  • YVES SALOMON-FERNÁNDEZ

Published: 7/31/2020 11:22:25 AM

The pandemic has highlighted many fissures in our democracy, including the unequal opportunities and outcomes for people of color in the U.S. The growing wealth gap and income inequality; the college debt crisis; global warming; and the troubling social determinants of health and well-being are among the biggest issues of our generation that we are passing on to Millennials, Gen Z, Gen Alpha, and now the Pandemic Generation. In some ways, we have regressed from progress made a decade or two ago. As an educator, I worry about how we are modeling responsible stewardship and leadership for our young professionals and young people. Yet, I have hope because we see the resolve that our college students have for doing better.

Greenfield Community College has spent the last year engaging in a strategic planning process that has been inclusive, engaging broad segments of our campus community and the broader external community. We understand that now, more than ever, how important an anchor institution we are. GCC is the primary vehicle for socioeconomic mobility for first-generation college students, for mothers returning to work, for career changers seeing some of their skills becoming obsolete in a changing job market. We are the college of the financially savvy students and families who see the pathway for completing a Bachelor’s degree for $30,000 by starting with us and continuing to UMASS, Elms College, or any of the institutions with which we have a premier partnership.

No college graduate wants to live in their parents’ basement or continue to borrow the family minivan because they are burdened with debt. In an unpredictable economy, no parent wants to drain their 401K or the equity in their home for just the first degree that their child will need to be competitive in the job market, and to command a salary that will help them be solidly middle class.

At GCC, we are committed to the development of the educated person whose stewardship our community will rely on for decades to come. Nearly 90% of our graduates reside in Franklin and Hampshire counties. We are cultivating the leaders, stewards, and citizens of our community. We understand that issues of equity, environmental sustainability, and community matter to college students now more than ever.

A liberal arts degree that teaches students how to think critically; how to be discerning consumers of information; to work and communicate across cultures; to be adaptive and creative problem-solvers has never been more important. We need leaders who are prepared to successfully navigate and lead in an increasingly complex, ambiguous, and uncertain world.

Yves Salomon-Fernández, Ph.D. is President of Greenfield Community College.


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